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2023 in The Rearview

1.   The Team

During my 7 years with GTE, I have had the joy of working with several team generations. Each generation was an exact fit at each stage of the company. But it seems to me that the current version of GTE, or all of you now, is the strongest team we have ever had.

  • The two quite well-established teams, IH and PM, are at a new level. IH was strengthened with a couple of new editors who can work really well on multiple domains, possess the perfect service attitude while ensuring the over-target capacity and deadline compliance. PMs are so happy for this, you know.
  • On the PM side, a few new PCs bring your distinctive strengths of quick action and excellent service mindset, balancing with the very careful and stable existing PMs. The PM team size was also increased timely to catch up with the workload, which resulted in an all-time-low OT rate for PM. It’s a huge relief that we actually made it, almost the first time in the entire PM history (chart below).
  • The BO teams (HR/ACC/Admin/System) are still performing wonderfully despite the compact size. The company’s working environment, facilities and events are in great shape. Invoices to clients and payments to suppliers were very smooth even when our revenue has been increasing considerably over the years. Our new BA – Helen, with her positive energy and dedication even makes it stronger. New GO modules and functions are released regularly. Bugs are fixed quickly. Release Notes and User Guides are available in a very professional fashion.
  • I’m sure all of the teams at the front line have been enjoying the support from the BO team during the last one year.
  • MKT team had a minor change in team size. But the real differences were a new dedicated leader, and also MKT members have the chance to try a new interesting task – Outreach. The whole MKT team has proved that you’re able to add more value to the company. Thanks Tony for making MKT a real team under your management.
  • VM & Sales have experienced a very challenging year with an almost entirely new team. Darla is the youngest TL we’ve ever had. The Sales team does not even have a dedicated TL. The temporary Sales TL, Brian, did not deliver any impressive results. The performance was down for both teams, obviously. But I take the bet on the potentials of the new faces. If you can keep your current momentum, I have no doubt that you will outperform the previous generation very soon.
  • I’m no longer the best in many aspects of the company. And I’m extremely happy with it. If I’m the best, the company’s growth is limited by my own capabilities. But PMs are now much better than me in production knowledge (CAT, RCA, Subtitling process). Some sales are more comfortable talking with clients than me, and are willing to work at late night to support them which I can’t do any longer. The Outreach team, after a while, can teach me how to work on some tools and steps.
  • We need more of these examples. Beat me on your job – that’s the requirement.

All of the above does not mean that we’re perfect. To make a stronger team, we need to attract new talents. But one no-less-important task is screening out mediocre members. Mediocrity in work results, attitude, or a misfit with our culture is not tolerated for long. We don’t want to let anyone go, but we will do it if we have to. It’s a harsh truth. And that “anyone” includes myself as the owner and founder of the company. The business world has proven many times that the founder can be out if they no longer perform well in their position.

At the end of the day, it’s about the sustainable growth of the entire company. Not about any individual position.

2.    Key figures and milestones 

The first one should be our Revenue. For the entire year 2023, we have made 1.86mil USD, or 92% of our target. While the YoY growth is 20%, it’s less than our expectations. And for the first time in many years, the result in H2 was not as good as H1. This was caused by the “renovation” in Sales team during H2. Anyway, if I could do it again, I would have done the exact same way. The Sales renovation was not a choice, but a must. And I hope the Sales team goes down just to go up stronger.

AMs & PMs were doing a great job, though. The revenue from PM & AM exceeded 112% of your target, and made up 77% of the company revenue. Thank you team for always being the reliable part of the company.

The second aspect involves our client and revenue structure. 67% of our revenue comes from 14 Strategic and Big accounts. This handful number of important accounts allows us plan our resources with needed priority for the long run. Three over seven Strategic accounts are End-clients, which means we’re able to handle EC demand on a quite large scale. The biggest account is 16.7% of our company revenue, which means their essential to us but we’re not too dependent on them (like we’re dead without them). Overall, our revenue and client structure are quite stable for further growth in the upcoming years.

Last but not least, we’ve done an incredible amount of work within 2023. In Q2, we successfully deployed of IMS automated numerous internal administration work. By Q3, we moved to a new bigger office that uplifted us to a new level, both physically and mentally. In some last days of the year, we achieved ISO 17100 – the most specialized ISO for a translation company. Those milestones used to worth some separate sessions in my blog. Now they’re just briefly mentioned. Don’t get me wrong – it does not mean they’re not important achievements. On the contrary, the ones behind those milestones can be very proud of yourself. But at the company scale, if they’re not as big to us as they were a few years ago, it means that we have grown up.

3.   2024 – To the bigger world

Yes, that’s the title for our YEP this year. Over the last two years, we have acquainted ourselves with the Singaporean market. We act like a SG company, accumulate a pretty good SG client base, and pay for suppliers from our SG bank without any issue. However, the SG market is small. It’s the good start but can’t be our long-term playground. That’s why we’re aiming to a bigger world: China and the US.

  • China

I debate with myself a lot regarding this market. Personally, I don’t really like the business philosophy of some Chinese clients. They’re just too aggressive in cutting cost, and it’s not my style. Professionally, our company has been designed and built for the English-speaking markets since Day 1. But on the other hand, China is a huge market next-door. They’re forecasted to become the world’s largest economy within the next decade. If companies all around the world come a long way to do business in China, why shouldn’t we?

So, we just do not sit there and guess the answer. We shall give it a try. The brief plan is to recruit a small team of native Chinese salespersons, build a Chinese version of our website, and invest in paid search from their search engines like Baidu. More actions may follow if the first ones are checked.

  • The US

The US market has always been the biggest playground for all industries, including L10n. If you may remember, we failed it two years ago. This is our second attempt. But this time, instead of sending someone here to the US, we plan to recruit one or two native US Salespersons. Marketing activities can still be done from here by our MKT team. For production teams, VM & PM may need to evolve to support the business side in terms of time zones and required languages pairs.

Expanding into two new huge markets in one year is simply super ambitious for a company at our size. But I’m already thrilled with excitements. If we can’t do it, we shall learn some good lessons. If we succeed with just one among the two, we may enjoy the unexpected growth. Those are the reasons for us to take this big bet. And “Challenge Accepted” is our culture, isn’t it?

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These data & information were shared to help you gain an overall picture of your work and to promote our transparency. Do NOT disclose them to external parties unless you have written approval from the MD.

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H2-2022 Revenue data & Highlights

1. The US: we failed the first battle. Can we win the war?

We entered H2-2022 with a high hope on the US market. A Sales to be sent there by Q3. MKT activities would soon convert into Leads. A new batch of US clients will start appearing.

But we were too naive to think it was that easy.

Firstly, Alex’s visa application was not accepted. The US immigration system is not simply designed for small companies like us to send someone there. Then MKT failed to bring a stable number of US leads. We tried to execute numerous plans and waited for four months. The results not improved as we expected.

By writing these lines, we gave up the plan of sending a Sales to the US. The MKT team still has been struggling with the US campaign. 

We did have some first US clients, but they’re not enough to cover the total the U.S. market’s investment. More importantly, we have not created a template to acquire the US clients. New tactics are being deployed. But we can’t (and should not) say anything in advance. Let’s wait and see.

2. A new Revenue milestone

Nevertheless, it’s the year-end. The right time for us is to look back at a key figures: revenue data. 2022 marks a milestone with the new high in revenue (you already saw this in the YEP video):

  • For a year: VND 37.5bil.
  • For a single month (Dec): 4.27bil

image001

The total revenue comes mostly from the production efforts. Yes, Production. I mean, here are PM & AM directly, with support from VM & IH. You have done a beautiful job, teams! Thank you so much for the contribution.

Our working culture is to look forward and to keep improving. However, I guess a brief looking back would be acceptable sometimes. Compared to our first year 2017 in which the revenue was VND 2.4bil, we are now 15 times bigger. It’s a quite something, isn’t it?

3. Revenue per Headcount (RpH)

As can be seen from the chart, the RpH is on the upward trend (except for 2019 and 2020 – there was several huge one-off projects). We closed 2022 with VND 1.072bil/headcount, or about $45k/headcount

There’re many factors affecting the RpH: team efficiency; team structure; unit price of our product (language pairs); average client/project values; and many more. 

Therefore, it’s hard to conclude firmly which is the attribute mainly caused for this positive trend. However, my best guess: we’re doing well with the Unit Price. Specifically, we gradually transform from EN-VI language to other LPs with higher unit price (mostly Asian LPs).

What does this RhP mean to you? Somehow, it indicates our human quality/efficiency. So if we can push the RpH up, the company has more revenue resources to offer you better compensation packages.

That’s our own data. What about other companies? Let’s select a few (random) others to make a comparison.

image-003

The gap between our RpH and those companies are quite big. Still a long long way to go.

4. My year-end reflection

Personally, when I look back at 2022, the first thing comes to my mind is the lessons learned. Not the revenue recorded. Not the profit earned.

In fact, lessons do not come easily, or quickly. We learn our best during the turbulent time. To name a few:

  • People management: within 2022, there were changes at several key positions: 2 times with the PMTL role, 2 times with the MKT TL role, and 1 time with the Sales TL role. Not mentioning multiple changes at staff level.
  • Sales & MKT investment: H2-2022 was the second period that we experience a loss from Sales & MKT activities. The lost in H2 was even bigger than from H1.
  • Revenue management: 2022 revenue target was established as a wishful goal without a clear roadmap on how to achieve it. When the actual achievement was behind the target, I didn’t really know what to do.

Sometimes I doubt my own ability to drive our company forward. But these lessons are of great values. They’re my weapons for 2023. I hope you all have learnt something for yourself in 2022.

Let’s finish what we couldn’t do in 2022 in 2023, won’t you?

These data & information were shared to help you gain an overall picture of your work and to promote our transparency. Do NOT disclose them to external parties unless you have written approval from the MD.

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H1-2022 Revenue data & Highlights

H1-2022 Revenue Data & Hightlights

As promised, I bring you the first summary of our business situation during H1-2022.

1. The 1st real step into an international operation

Recently we decided to close the Indonesian Representative Office. The original purposes of setting it up were no longer relevant. As our working culture, we simply adapt and move forwards. Instead, we put more effort into the two other offices: SG and the US.

  • Singapore: besides the legal entity, we successfully opened the SG bank account. Consequently, our SG office can operate fully as a Singaporean company: sign the contract with clients, receive the payment, and pay out to suppliers. For the first time ever, we’re truly doing international operations! Behind the scenes were a lot of efforts from the Accounting & Admin team to smooth out all the legal and accounting setup. VM team has recently joined to integrate the supplier part. Kudos to the ladies!
  • The US: the biggest battlefield! We have got the legal entity in June. MKT efforts have just geared up – we got the very first US Lead last week. But unlike the SG office in which the physical presence of a Sales is optional, we would need someone to be in the same time zone and working atmosphere with the US clients. And that “someone” is chosen to be Alex with his proven Sales performance in 2021 and working morale during the last 3 years. Alex is currently in the visa-applying stage for US entry with a tentative interview date this Sept. Wish his luck, won’t you?

2. The 2nd start-up

Without knowing it before, we were in the second start-up time. If the first start-up in 2017 was to enter and survive in the business, this one was to climb up the value chain. To be clear, we were no longer contented to be a purely sub-contractor providing some local languages for other LSPs since 2019. But it was not until 2022 that we put all our efforts to acquire new end-clients. Marketing spending was invested heavily. Sales operation was standardized. Production & back-office were lined up to support.

And the results?

Within the first 6 months of 2022, we acquired the same number of clients as the entire 2021. The majority of them are EC.

It’s a Wow, right? But if we take a closer look, the full picture was not as rosy as the number of new clients. To gain that many new clients, we spent a lot of money. And the revenue and profit from those new clients were not large enough to cover the spending. Technically, ROI from Sales & MKT activities was negative. Or simply put, we were making a loss. The precise number of losses was somewhere 1bil VND for H1-2022.

What do all of those things mean? We now know the first step: how to get new clients. But we don’t know yet the second step: how to make profits from them. The responsibility to answer this question falls mainly into 3 teams:

  1. MKT – your results were not too bad, I can say. You brought home quite a lot of new Leads. Many of them had big potential. But you still need to optimize your activities more and more. A key figure like CPBL (Cost per Business Lead) was still high.
  2. Sales – I know you guys were trying hard. But it can’t be denied that the final result was far from ideal. The successfully converted clients were mainly small & medium ones. We didn’t get any big deal. So please be more aggressive. Optimize your chance with every single Lead. Count on your luck. Or whatever. I expect more visible results in the H2, bros.
  3. VM – though your work is far from the client, your part is significant here. If you can’t find a way to have cost-effective resources, the front-line team, Sales, will never be able to offer good quotations to win new clients. And the quotation is about 80% of the reasons clients select a vendor. Once we get the client, only cost-effective resources can turn a project into profitable. The resource cost from you matters, a lot!
Either as the temporary Sales TL or as the MD to lead MKT & VM team, I personally share the responsibility here. And I will still be around, very closely, in the H2 to find the answer together with you. 

A note for this part: we made a loss with Sales & MKT activities but we still made profits from the overall business. Don’t be confused. But at the same time, that profit was pretty thin due to the Sales & MKT investments.

3. Revenue and the vision ahead

The first half of 2022 recorded 15.7bil VND in revenue. This is the best 1st half of the year that we have ever had. Or 27.7% up in comparison to the H1-2021. However, it’s only 80.5% of our H1-2022 target.

Remember our vision to be on top of the 20 largest LSP in APAC with about USD 9mil in revenue by 2026? That means we need to be on a good track of revenue every half a year during the 10 periods until 2026. The first one was not as expected. Please join your hands to make it up in the second one.

Final words: You didn’t find other teams in the spotlight: PM, AM, IH, Dev, Engineer. It’s not because you’re not newsworthy. On the contrary, you’re doing generally well (though there were still some hiccups here and there) so that I can feel confident to switch my focus to other hot spots. A big thanks here to you actually! 

These data & information were shared to help you gain an overall picture of your work and to promote our transparency. Do NOT disclose them to external parties unless you have written approval from the MD.

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GTE Localize’s Working Culture – Full Ver

GTE Localize's Working Culture

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Elaboration on WFH Policy

Elaboration on WFH Policy

As the pandemic is moving to a later stage, you started to see headlines like “Tech giant A let xx thousands of employees WFH permanently” or “Company B decided to become an entire remote-working company”. I have not received any official questions on this topic, but I thought some of you may have slight wonders. So I would like to share why the management team still expects the Office team to come to the office when you can.

Regarding Productivity, we will fall into 1 among 3 groups while WFH:

  1. You can’t manage your time well, or you’re affected by external factors (like your child is running around or your internet is down), which lead to lower productivity
  2. You manage everything well and productivity is just the same as you’re working at the office
  3. The line between work and personal life becomes blur than ever. You work whenever you can. While productivity is even higher, you will get burn-out soon.

Among the 3 scenarios, only the b) is good. Both a) and c) are not good. Unfortunately a) and c) will certainly happen, to someone or at some point in time.

Secondly, the team designed to work at the office is the team involves in a lot of communication and interaction. After 2 years, we realize that Zoom or any online platform can just cover the informative part of the communication. The human touch is irreplaceable. By seeing our colleagues’ faces, we understand each other a lot more than “cold & flat” chat text or video voice/image. That’s extremely important, especially if you’re working with a new team member who you have never meet in person before.

Not to mention when we have technical issues (which are unavoidable) and all the working mood just goes down uncontrollably after 20 times of “Can you hear me now?”.

That’s said, GTE does not oppose the benefits of working remotely. We have 30% of our current workforce WFH permanently, long before “WFH” became the buzzword. The number of WFH members will still increase in the upcoming time, both inside and outside VN. Financially, letting you all WFH will cut a very big portion of our cost structure. But at the end of the day, long-term work results are what matter.

Overall, the WFH option only works best when it’s applied selectively.

Hope to see you all at the office in one nearest day.